“kyiv will win the war”, said the ex-commander of America’s forces in Europe

Within ten days, the tide seemed to be turning. After seven months of a war of attrition, the Ukrainian armed forces carried out an extensive counter-offensive, first in Kherson, in the south, then especially in the Kharkiv region, in the northeast, extending up to 8,000 km² in a retreating Russian army.

Former commander of US forces in Europe, retired Lieutenant General Ben Hodges believes that “a point of no return” has been crossed, with a possible defeat that could shake Vladimir Putin and the Russian Federation.

Retired Lt. gen. and former commander of US forces in Europe Ben Hodges. – CEPA

Are we witnessing a change?

It was a great achievement that completely changed the nature of the conflict. The dynamic has turned in favor of Ukraine, and it is unlikely to reverse. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians don’t have to worry too much about killing Russian soldiers, and the rest of the world realizes that Ukraine can win. This may convince some reluctant countries to provide aid. Be careful, it’s too early to celebrate. But within three weeks, the Ukrainian army regained the initiative.

What factors have been created?

Ukraine is winning the logistics battle. There are nearly 700,000 Ukrainians in uniform to defend their homeland. Not all of them were trained and ready to fight, but they had no shortage of men. Unlike Moscow, which has broken soldiers who don’t want to be there. And Ukraine is dependent on Western-supplied weapons that have greatly damaged Russia.

We talk a lot about rockets in the system Himars. Do they change things?

No single weapon, except nuclear weapons, alone changes the course of conflict. What is important is how to use it. With Himars, and other medium-range precision weapons, Ukraine was able to destroy many Russian ammunition dumps and command posts, and even target the rear areas of the enemy’s defenses. This is important for counter-offensive preparation.

From a tactical point of view, what has Ukraine achieved?

The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces made a complete deception by publicly insisting on the counter-offensive in Kherson (in the south). The Russians took the bait and mobilized troops, stripping the areas the Ukrainians wanted to attack in the Kharkiv region. These are the basics of the art of operations: surprise, discipline, logistics and timing.

Why did kyiv choose this moment, when we seem to be standing still?

Clausewitz (the Prussian general and strategist) spoke of the climax: the moment when an offensive is exhausted and then stopped. Defensive forces should expect it to plan a counter-offensive and hit the enemy when he is vulnerable.

The Ukrainian general staff understood in June or July that the Russian offensive would end in August. It requires nerves of steel. He was forced to put all the tanks and soldiers on the front line, but the latter fell victim to attrition. Thus the general staff succeeded in preserving a force for this counter-offensive. It is a mastered art of war.

Ukrainian forces appear to have penetrated into the Donbass, east of the Oskil River. Is there a danger that they will go too far, too fast?

If you break through quickly, there is always the risk of overstretching your logistics and having tired soldiers. But the Ukrainians know the territory perfectly. They have the advantage of advancing on open ground, with thousands of civilians with smartphones who can report where the Russians are. It would be difficult for the Russian troops to surprise them with a large-scale attack. Even if it was from the other side of the border, in Belgorod, the allies would notice them. The Russians should logically try to prepare a second, then a third line of defense to protect their gains. Ukrainian forces will try to outflank them.

Himar rockets have a range of 90 km. The Biden administration refused to provide the ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile System) long-range missiles, which have a range of 300 km. Is this wrong?

Absolutely. The American administration has done an extraordinary job in all other aspects of the conflict: maintaining unity with allies and Congress, supporting Ukraine, sharing intelligence elements in real time. But it overstates the risk of a nuclear escalation by Russia and a Third World War.

With long-range missiles, the administration fears that Ukraine, although it has assured that it will not, attack Russian territory, causing the development. But let’s be clear: if Ukraine fired a missile at a Russian airbase killing innocent Ukrainian civilians, it would be perfectly legal and justified, and Moscow could do little to retaliate.

Even inside Ukraine, ATACMS missiles, which can be loaded on Himars, will be useful. There are 300 km between Odessa and Sevastopol (southern Crimea). If attacked by Ukraine now, Sevastopol would be untenable by the Russian Black Sea Fleet. If Ukraine could hit the Russian bases in Crimea where the airstrikes are coming from, that would make a big difference.

Odessa and Sevastopol are nearly 300 km apart, a distance within reach of ATACMS missiles.
Odessa and Sevastopol are nearly 300 km apart, a distance within reach of ATACMS missiles. – Google Maps

Putin has so far refused to declare a general mobilization. What are his options?

In one video, we see Russia recruiting prisoners because there are not enough Russians willing to fight. Putin doesn’t have much choice. He did not have a large – and combat-ready – force that he could deploy quickly. It has hundreds of thousands of National Guard troops, but they are for domestic use. Although he declared the total mobilization of 100,000 men, it would take months before they could be trained and deployed. Putin needs to justify himself to Russians, and discontent with the Kremlin seems to be growing among nationalists.

Cornered, isn’t Putin dangerous? Why do you suspect he is using a tactical nuke?

This is a possibility, but, in my opinion, unlikely, for practical and strategic reasons. Putin is not suicidal or alone in deciding. There is a system in place. You use such a weapon to create an opening, but Russia has no choice to exploit it, and there is no clear target in Ukraine. And above all, if there is recourse, with China, Iran and North Korea watching, the United States will be forced to intervene in the conflict.

Joe Biden has no doubt received a list of options from the Pentagon for a possible response. Like destroying the Black Sea Fleet or the Russian naval base in Syria with airstrikes or cruise missiles. Washington probably won’t aim for a Russian target, because that would be too much of a game-changer.

Will Ukraine win the war?

Absolutely, Ukraine will win the war. This is inevitable, as long as the West continues to support it.

What does a victory in Ukraine look like?

A 100% restoration of Ukrainian territory including Crimea and Donbass, and the return of over a million Ukrainians exiled to Russia. Undoubtedly there are bilateral agreements between Ukraine and the United States, with strengthened security and a better strategy for the Black Sea region.

In case of defeat, what are the consequences for Putin and Russia?

With sanctions starting to bite Russia and a major defeat, Putin may struggle to stay in power. This could lead to the end of the Russian Federation. Others, in Chechnya and elsewhere, sense the weakness of the Russian army and see an opportunity there. I am not saying that the collapse of Russia is a good thing, but we have to prepare for it.

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